The Girls by Emma Kline
Emma Cline was just 25 when her debut novel, The Girls, sold for $2m as part of a three-book deal, said Alex O’Connell in The Times. A fictionalised account of life in the Manson family, the novel opens with Evie, an unhappy 14-year-old, encountering the cult’s “top girl”, Suzanne, scavenging for food in an LA dumpster. A “smitten” Evie is drawn into the group, and soon moves to the ranch where Suzanne lives with Russell (the “buckskin-wearing Charles Manson character”) and a group of female acolytes. There, surrounded by “feral children” and “lots of drugs”, Evie is initiated into sex with Russell, the “master groomer” himself. The novel ends with a series of minutely described murders, based on the killing spree carried out by Manson and his followers in the summer of 1969. Although these “prurient” scenes somewhat “cheapen” the narrative, The Girls is in all other respects a “spectacular achievement”.
While the novel obviously has a “ghoulish” appeal, its “true worth” lies in its depiction of the “growth of Evie’s intimacy with Suzanne”, said Laura Gallagher in the Literary Review. Here, Cline offers an “incisive commentary” on the “sexual socialisation of young women”: on women’s desire to be noticed and “told what was good” about them. Cline’s prose, though at times “overblown”, is mostly a “joy to read”, said Lucy Atkins in The Sunday Times. So well does she articulate nuance and atmosphere that you end up “lingering” over passages simply to “relish the word choice”. Intense, beautiful and a “little overwrought”, The Girls is the perfect read for the “young and complicated”.